Concepts I Like:
1. Paring things back
Tell the story in as few words as possible. Exceptions include building atmosphere, but even then, keep it short.
2. Avoiding Description so judgement is left to the reader
For instance, use fewer subjective adjectives like “satisfactory”, “awe-inspiring”. Who finds it satisfying? Who’s being awed? Opt for (seemingly) more objective terms like “sufficient” or “extraordinary”. Even then, superlatives are NOT good. It’s like when people sign off with Best Regards. Are your regards actually the best I can receive, from anyone? If you’re telling me that the palace is resplendent – even if it’s through the eyes of your narrator, you have not yet blown my mind.
3. The idea that the biggest problem with good writing is the written word
The more words you have, the more error-prone your writing, Shirley?
You don’t want to alienate a readership because they don’t like your turn of phrase.
You don’t have to be minimalist and sparse; be descriptive if you choose, but get to the point ASAP.
4. The removal of the filter
This speaks to the last point. If a character sees something that happened, then it happened.
“He watched her walk across the street”?
Unless it’s really important, just “She walked across the street” or “She crossed the street.” How about that?
5. Fits and Starts
People don’t begin to pack a suitcase, or start their car and pull out.
They pack their suitcase. They drive away. How often do you unnecessarily say “Andy started to compose his email, keeping an eye on the door for his lunch date”?
Cut down on the starts and the begins, and the “what appeared to be”s too. It’s bet-hedging and ass-coverage. Commit to the act, rather than doing it in fits and starts. Run a search for begin and began and start in all its forms in whatever you’re working on. Then start to ask yourself if you need them.
6. Omitting anything the reader doesn’t need to know, as Tobias Wolff suggested in an interview one time. Not always, perhaps. It’s nice to inform character through the little things.
7. Applying one verb to two clauses, and omitting conjunctions
Melissa is forty years old, and John is forty-two.
You don’t need the second is, nor
need another need here. So stop being needy!
8. Entering scenes late and leaving early
Does what it says. Here’s where omitting things the reader doesn’t need to know might come into play.
9. Using your imagination
Write what you know? Okay. Fine. But also write about frickin’ brain surgery when you’re not a frickin’ doctor, á la Ian McEwan in Saturday. Fiction is sophistry. Convince as many readers as you can of something that isn’t real. There’s as much nobility in the act of writing as there is in a blueberry. You can mush it into a frenemy’s beautiful white dress or you can feed a child a superfood.
10. Learning the Phwackin’ Basics
Before all that, one might have used loathe instead of loath, or complement instead of compliment, had problems with apostrophes, or omitted an M in accommodate. Learn that stuff too.
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